Background/Aims: The matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) family play important roles in the invasion of cancer cells by degrading the extracellular matrices. The current study was designed to determine the expression pattern of membrane-type matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MT1-MMP) in hepatocellular carcinomas and its participation in invasion potential. Methods: MT1-MMP mRNA expression was examined in 25 human hepatocellular carcinoma specimens using Northern blot, and the correlation to clinicopathological features was evaluated. In situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry were performed to study the localization and the cells responsible for the production. Results: Northern blot analysis revealed high levels of MT1-MMP mRNA expression in tumorous portions in all cases, whereas in non-tumorous portions moderate or faint expression was evident in 22/25 cases. In 21/25 cases, the expression levels in tumorous portion were higher than those in non-tumorous portion. In particular, hepatocellular carcinoma with capsule infiltration demonstrated significantly higher expression than those without (p<0.05). In situ hybridization and immunohistochemical study revealed MT1-MMP transcripts and proteins in cancer cells and stromal cells, respectively. MT1-MMP positive cells were preferentially observed in the invading border of tumor nests. The MMP-2 transcript showed a similar pattern to that of MT1-MMP by in situ hybridization. Conclusion: The present study showed that the MT1-MMP gene is strongly expressed in hepatocellular carcinoma cells and is involved in the invasion potential of hepatocellular carcinoma, and also that MT1-MMP may be one of the key molecules responsible for the invasion potential of hepatocellular carcinoma. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that MT1-MMP and MMP-2 cooperate in the process of cancer invasion.
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